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How UC Changes Business Processes

By: Richard "Zippy" Grigonis

Cost-U-Less Insurance, one of California’s largest non-standard auto insurance brokers, was losing business because of an inefficient contact center phone system that dropped calls and didn’t provide any real time data. To the rescue came Simple Smart Secure IP Communications, known as SOS (News - Alert) (, a nationwide reseller and expert in voice and data solutions for business, including call centers, network security and VoIP. SOS designed a new system for Cost-U-Less based on the Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) ( suite for contact centers, the Customer Interaction Center. The suite’s modules can do Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Automated Call Distribution (ACD), end-to-end reporting, dynamic alerts, and optional call recording. The system was also designed with redundant failover servers. The result? In the first month following installation, sales shot up 15 percent, hold times dropped from 5 minutes to less than 30 seconds, and the company was able to take two of its 12 agents out of the call center and put them on other tasks.

One key to the era of UC is integrating business activities. Software technology is such that different applications can be united in a “mash-up” scenario. A mash-up is essentially a collection of disparate pieces pulled together to ‘synergize’ and do something bigger and more interesting. It’s 1+1=3. One can add to this the ability of the customer to have more control over how he or she communicates and interacts with applications. Get used to the term CEBP (Customer Enabled Businesses Processes). You’ll soon be hearing it as often as UC.

Martin Suter (News - Alert) is President of Objectworld Communications, makers of Objectworld UC Server that integrates business communications, business processes, line-of-business applications and corporate data in a single, Windows-based application. Objectworld (News - Alert) UC Server supports legacy PBXs, has Microsoft Active Directory-based administration tools, and supports optional integrated SIP-based VoIP telephony, thus easing a business’ transition to VoIP.

“In any industry there are always people resistant to change,” says Suter. “We’ve certainly seen that with other technologies over the years. Business Intelligence [BI] was one of those fields kept in the Ivory Tower for a very long time, and when Microsoft (News - Alert) began to make available BI capabilities natively and in end user tools with which people were familiar, they grew accustomed to them and they saw the benefits of dashboards and KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] and other things that help them do their jobs. I really see that UC and communications-enabled business processes are following a similar route.”

“For the longest time, UC has been a matter of simply stitching together disparate communications capabilities,” says Suter. “But during 2007 we all did a much better job in articulating the benefits and gains that can be had by a new era of UC. Microsoft coming onboard by including UC with Exchange 2007 is certainly a key step in bringing some these advanced capabilities down to the desktop and end-user level, or information-worker level.”

“But there’s a lot more to be done,” says Suter. “What really excites us is the application of UC in linking business processes, to automate things, to improve customer service and satisfaction scores and to bring context into communications for end-users, which is lacking today to a large degree.”

One of the major components in this transformation is SIP, the Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert), says Suter: “A SIP-based ecosystem allows us to be somewhat agnostic about the interacting components. We can now deliver core-value propositions without having to deliver all of the pieces ourselves. One thing we’ve announced is a rebranding and repackaging exercise explaining the benefits of UC and the integration of business processes. For us, the best way to show this is via demonstrations. If you’re familiar with the Microsoft Demo Showcase, we’ve taken a page out of that playbook and on our home page you’ll be able to walk through eight different scenarios, each of which is representative of some of the problems and benefits that end user companies can gain from UC. For example, the road warrior/sales guy scenario is important because they tend to stress the system. But we also are highlighting gains that production managers and departments such as finance see from integrating communications with some of the applications they use.”

Suter elaborates: “Smitty, the production guy in our fictional company scenario, monitors and uses a just-in-time inventory system for production and the system monitors critical component capability. In databases you can set thresholds for alerts and different things, but what’s really important is getting that information to the right people at the right time so they can take action on it. I think that’s really exciting for companies to be able to do that, and it’s an example of how systems can be linked together with the communication system to deliver value and to prevent a production line shutdown, which would be a worse-case scenario for a manufacturing company.”

“In terms of finance, most companies today monitor accounts receivable very closely,” says Suter. “Some of our customers have implemented an automated outdialing capability that is triggered when a receivable hits a certain number of days past due. Rather than simply flagging it and requiring somebody to elect to intervene, it’s possible to automate the process and provide the customer with certain options – perhaps to pay the bill using a credit card, or request that a fax copy of the invoice be sent to them, or to speak to somebody in accounting. It’s a problem that every company can relate to but frequently they haven’t thought about how they can automate and better manage their receivables through the application of technology, and taking it beyond simple desktop alerts and dashboards to a whole other level. In any case, those were just a few examples of how you would integrate communications with your financial system.”

Retooling for Tomorrow, Today

“We’ve rebranded and repackaged Objectworld UC server, our core brand,” says Suter. “We’re shipping three different editions. The Standard Edition effectively allows us to deliver the capabilities that I described and many others on top of or alongside an existing PBX (News - Alert), so it really isn’t a ‘rip-and-replace model’ by any means; instead, it brings UC and business process integration to your existing PBX.”

Suter continues: “The second version, Objectworld UC Server SIP Edition, is for SMB customers moving to a software-based SIP solution and UC, but don’t want to buy an expensive convergence solution.”

“Third, and lastly for those companies that already have a PBX and a UC solution and simply want the applications server component and the application integration ability, we our CEBP Edition,” says Suter. “It’s a Windows-based service creation environment to build communications-enabled applications.”

“So, we believe those three editions we have the breadth of the market covered,” says Suter. “We are clearly focused on the 100 to 2,000-employee company. The sub-100 segment is a difficult space to reach and to compete in; there you see some of the low-cost hosted solutions. We’re targeting those companies that probably have a degree of IP expertise in-house and are interested in doing many of those things that I’ve described.”

“Many people are starting to use the term CEBP, or Customer Enabled Businesses Processes,” says Suter. “I think it will be the newest hot term like ‘unified communications’. Gartner (News - Alert) and others are talking about CEBP, the sound volume on that is getting turned way up. One important aspect of CEBP that people will start look at and where others will differentiate themselves, will be the amount of professional services required to actually do this. There’s been CTI (News - Alert) integration available for a long time now, but it has traditionally been available only to the largest enterprise customers. I think with a product like Objectworld UC Server, which out of the box gives you ODBC [Open Database Connectivity] connectivity and the ability, even in-house, to automate and integrate in some of the ways I’ve described,. we can bring the benefits of business process integration down to that smaller and mid-market customer.”

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate

Manjula Talreja is the Senior Director, Customer Business Transformation Team, Voice Technology Group, at Cisco Systems (News - Alert). “From my perspective, unified communications, specifically IP-based UC, is a platform that provides not only presence capabilities but mobility, virtualization, speech, and rich media, including video and quad-play. Based on what is happening in the industry right now, we’re really moving toward Web 2.0. Customers don’t care any more about wanting to be anywhere, anyplace, anytime. I want applications in which I can participate rather than applications that just personalize to me, such as the YouTubes, and Facebooks and WebEx team spaces and all of that, which are better than resorting to the traditional email process. Moreover, I should be independent of a single device. I should be able to inhabit any workspace I prefer. At certain times I could be using IP or desktop phone, or a laptop softphone at a Starbuck’s, or a mobile device at the airport. In any event, I want to be able to transition from device and environment one to the other, doing ‘mash-ups’ of different applications any way I want to, and I want to communicate in different ways. That calls for the platform that we at Cisco build — all the way up from the application layer to the endpoints, to the network appliance layer, to the network.”

“Four years ago I left the IT world and joined the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, which is a strategy consulting group, and I ran the high-tech practice,” says Talreja. “Two years ago I was asked to become a leader in the Voice Technology Group and about two years ago we created a new group called Customer Business Transformation. So Cisco actually innovated this concept years ago. There are people in my organization that are strategy consultants and have a strong UC background, who go to CXO type people to help define the business case for UC, both from when they’re doing the strategy as well as post-deployment.”

“The six areas that are changing the way the world is doing business are as follows: Virtualization, Presence, Speech, Mobility, Policy and Video,” says Talreja. “What’s exciting are not just things like XML applications on the phone, but also integration with inventory management systems and with other applications very specific to a vertical industry.”

“Our group is a catalyst group, so not only are we doing engagements with our top customers,” says Talreja, “but we’re applying this to the entire company, where our entire salesforce is moving to consultative selling, rather than ‘box selling’ which they used to do with routers and switches. Indeed, we’re moving to consultative selling, business transformation and business practice selling for UC. There’s a huge effort going on at Cisco to transition the company to sell UC from a business value point of view.”

Talreja continues: “A CIO asks us from a business perspective, ‘Yes you’re getting the business really excited about transforming the business, including increasing productivity, but how do I pay for it?’ The convergence of moving things over to an IP environment involves reducing costs from 20 to 40 percent, based on our studies and our engagements with real-life customers. The CIOs’ business imperative is to keep costs down, and so we’re showing them significant ways from a business perspective to reduce costs.”

“Our framework is based on demonstrating TCO [Total Cost of Ownership] for the CIO as a result of convergence,” says Talreja. “For the business itself, we bring two other key aspects: First is productivity. I just talked to a leading investment bank and hedge fund organization, and to them ‘time is money’, so they’re extremely interested in implementing UC to make their high-end analysts extremely productive. UC enables them to do that.”

“Second, the real power of all this is business transformation, which varies by whatever vertical you’re dealing with,” says Talreja. “The business case for the retail industry is different than that for a hospital or the government or for financial institutions. We therefore work with customers both on their strategy as well as post-deployment business impact that they have within each vertical. Predominantly we see a great deal of activity involving financial, manufacturing, retail and health care areas.”

“From a business transformation point of view, let me give you an example,” says Talreja. “There is a high-end clothing chain called Mitsukoshi in Japan. They sell jeans for $200 to $300. Retail space in Japan is extremely valuable, and so they like to optimize display space in relation to the changing room space. Mitsukoshi has installed RFID readers in Cisco IP phones and these are linked to their inventory management system. Let’s say a customer goes to one of their ‘Intelligent Fitting Rooms’ — developed by Cisco — to try on a pair of jeans, and then discovers it’s not the right size. Then, while sitting in the room, they swipe the card with the tag (News - Alert) onto the Cisco IP phone that connects directly into the inventory management system, thus permitting customers to search for different sizes and styles of jeans in stock without having to leave the fitting room, which is where the purchase decision tends to be strongest.”

“The phones are also placed throughout the sales area and staff can use them to check product availability without a trip to the stock room,” says Talreja. “The trial runs in the Mitsukoshi’s Ginza store found favor among more than 90 percent of the customer volunteers and all of the store’s sales. The experimental system in the premium denim department reduced wasteful round trips to the stock room by 25 percent, causing the sales staff to request full-scale adoption as soon as possible. Over a six month period the company has increased sales of their high end jeans by 113 percent. We aren’t even talking about presence here — just the integration of applications alone using a simple IP phone can have a tremendous effect on customer experience and business processes.”

Accelerating Projects, Finding People, Improving the Customer Experience

Tony Rybczynski (News - Alert) is the Director of Enterprise Global Strategic Marketing at Nortel. He says, “My short list of how UC changes business is as follows: First is accelerating projects, such as how quickly you write an RFP, approve a mortgage, or whatever. By projects I generally mean internal activities. Then there’s accessing experts to speed up decision-making, speeding up problem resolution — again, I’m thinking more of internal processes here. And then there’s improving the customer experience, which includes buying something, or getting a problem resolved, or all of the things associated with pre- and post-sales activities.”

“These can involve call center applications, but if you’re just walking into a store or if you phone into a business office and talk to your agent there may not be a contact center involved,” says Rybczynski. “Even so, we can certainly see UC extending some of those capabilities into a general business office, or across the enterprise. If half the people in your business are ‘customer-facing’ at some point during the course of their day, then outside of the confines of a highly-controlled contact center environment, you can also improve customer service through unified communications.”

“Even here at Nortel (News - Alert), UC can shorten sales cycles by improving how salespeople talk to system engineers and how everyone communicates with executive people and operational support,” says Rybczynski. “Shortening sales cycles of course has a top-line impact.”

“Then there’s the whole area of reducing travel, which is a bit of a different type of beast,” says Rybczynski. “But it also involves how you collaborate with customers, partners, employees, and others.”

Rybczynski continues: “When our customers embark on a UC project, we ask them ‘Which area will be impacted and which people in your organization will be most affected?’ Essentially we’re asking them what the problem is they’re trying to solve. For example, is problem resolution a big area for them or not? I’ve been dealing with the Vancouver Olympic Committee for the 2010 Olympics, since were’ the converged network supplier for them for wireless, optical, data, voice and so forth. There are many projects going on to day in preparation for those Olympics. But you can certainly imagine that with one week to go, the impact of messing up by not reaching the right people in the right way, are immeasurable. As you head toward the final days and weeks, the collaborative capabilities and abilities to being able to resolve problems very quickly are mission critical. That’s an extreme case, but I think in many situations the further you go down a path, collaboration becomes hugely important.”

“As far as improving customer-facing activities with UC, take the radiology department at Baylor University Medical Center [BUMC] in Dallas,” says Rybczynski. “Instead of wheeling patients to the X-ray room, they have equipment on carts and the radiologist basically goes to wherever the patient is located. To do that you need to know where the radiologist closest to a given patient is situated with the proper equipment. The ‘queue’ to be X-rayed is now virtual rather than being a real line of patients. Baylor found that by using UC, Blackberries with the radiology technicians, on a three-hour cycle they can save 45 minutes of their time through presence and instant messaging, and can use their resources more effectively. It improves customer experience and accelerates the ‘project’ of how many X-rays you can do in a day.”

The BUMC solution, based on Nortel’s Healthcare Solutions portfolio, uses Nortel’s Multimedia Communication Server 5100, a network-based SIP application delivery platform that provides integrated IP telephony, multimedia conferencing, instant messaging, presence and other collaboration tools to the mobile Radiology department staff. The system allows staff to receive medical orders anywhere on the hospital’s 120 acre campus on a handheld device, which improves business processes associated with time-to-diagnosis, workflow and patient care.

“In many cases, however, you want to avoid ‘overkill,” says Rybczynski. “Service workers such as retail people don’t need an office communicator client, because that’s way too rich, and too comprehensive. What you want to do is to integrate the appropriate UC functions into the applications and devices that they use. You communication-enable devices and applications incorporating select and appropriate functions that make sense for each particular type of job, and then the person has the opportunity of initiating a UC session directly from within that applications.”

“Actually, there are two types of communication-able applications,” says Rybczynski. “One type still allows the user from within the application to initiate some sort of communication, such as a voice call, IM or whatever. The other type is where the application itself can initiate the communication, such as notifications. The app determines that something has changed, such as a drop in inventory, and it will reach out through UC to the appropriate stakeholders and deliver the information they need or even schedule a call among the people that need to talk to accelerate, for example, problem resolution. This can be achieved by making communications into software services, as in the context of SOA [Service Oriented Architectures] that can be made available to any application. Initially we at Nortel are doing this around IBM (News - Alert)’s WebSphere, so those applications can be enabled and leveraged as SOA services that are then delivered through traditional hardware and, more and more, software.”

“With an open multi-vendor, cross-domain approach, we can now reach more and more employees who can benefit from these functions, and we can speed up the business processes themselves,” says Rybczynski.

Nortel has an alliance and an ongoing ‘warm working relationship’ with Microsoft. Indeed, some Nortel people have Microsoft badges and have total access to the Microsoft campus in Redmond.

“One interesting development with Microsoft is that we have Unified Communications (News - Alert) Joint Branch Office Solution,” says Rybczynski. “We have Microsoft technology integrated with our secure router portfolio, which includes routing and switching for branch offices. So the question is, ‘How do you provide UC out to the branch office in a reliable, scalable way?’ You could throw a whole bunch of servers out there, but that’s not the answer. Instead, jointly with Microsoft we have a very interesting solution, and to the extent that we can sell that to the application owners, the people that own the branch, that there are some real opportunities to ‘intercept’ Cisco’s success with their ISR or Integrated Services Router, using a UCE-oriented solution for the branch, which also does routing and security. It’s not a pure software solution, but it is an example of how you can leverage the expertise of both Microsoft and Nortel and how we can position ourselves into a new area, the branch office level.”

Nortel’s ultimate strategy appears to leverage SOA and Web Services to make possible the efficient delivery of communication-enabled applications and business processes. Nortel asserts that “through the use of SOA, customers can integrate advanced communications services into business applications, increasing productivity while reducing capital and operating expenditures.”

Clearly, even in its early stages of adoption, unified communications is already having an enormous effect on the way business does business. IT

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC (News - Alert)’s IP Communications Group.


The following companies were mentioned in this article:

Comptel Corporation (

Embarq (

fg microtec (

NewStep Networks (

Nokia Siemens Networks (

Paragon Wireless (


UT Starcom (


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